R and RStudio

Updated: November 12, 2019

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R is a common statistical and computing language used in a variety of biomedical data analyses, visualizations and computing settings. R itself can be downloaded to install it on your local computer from the Comprehensive R Archive Network project, or CRAN, or via the FH Center IT’s Self Service Tools (on Macs or on PCs). Call the IT Helpdesk if you do not have permissions to install or update R on your local computer.


The RStudio IDE is a free and open source, popular interface to R, which supports a number of added features including a GUI that can be customized to view aspects of your work of most importance (such as plots, files, environment variables, scripts, workspaces, etc). RStudio can be downloaded here and requires an installation of R itself first. Keep in mind that updates to R/RStudio subsequently will require a two step process, one to update R itself, and the other to update the interface to R, RStudio.

RStudio has a few particularly useful features:

  • Support for R Markdowns/Notebooks
  • Integration with git or SVN
  • Concurrent views of code, plots, files, and environment variables with customized panels.
  • Direct deployment of Shiny apps via Shinyapps.io
  • R package management and direct installation capabilities

R Packages and Extensions

There are a number of available resources built on R that are free and open source that can greatly expand the utility of R and RStudio for research purposes. There are currently three main sources of R packages that are of interest to a majority of the research community.


Bioconductor is a public repository of R bioinformatics packages. Bioconductor packages are curated for intercompatibility and grouped into workflows (eg. CyTOF, ChIP-seq, eQTL, etc…). New Bioinformatic tools often result in a submission of the corresponding packages to Bioconductor. These are reliable, well vetted packages that undergo a rigorous process for submission.


CRAN, (Comprehensive R Archive Network) is a public repository of numerous R packages along with R itself. Numerous packages are available, though packages are not vetted as heavily as Bioconductor and generally are required to successfully be built, but may not always perform reliably, or be fully documented.


GitHub hosts many open source R packages. As they are not vetted or peer-reviewed, these packages can be more experimental than those on CRAN or Bioconductor and thus you will want to proceed with caution. Some basic instructions on how to install packages into your local R/RStudio are included in this vignette.

Local (Desktop) Use

When using R/RStudio locally, you have the option to install a number of different packages from multiple sources. Depending on the source of the package, you may approach downloading and installing them slightly differently but you manage the various packages installed, the versions of them as well as the version of R you are using them with.

Remote (Rhino and Gizmo) Use

If computing resources beyond what is available via your desktop are required, you may consider running R scripts or RStudio from the rhinos or gizmo. When using R/RStudio on shared computing resources, different options for builds and modules are available that you can take advantage of. SciComp makes pre-built modules available for researcher use in order to facilitate more reproducible and reliable use of software on the local cluster.

Current R Builds on Rhino/Gizmo

SciComp maintains a current list of the various builds of R available on Gizmo for use by researchers on the EasyBuild site. Each build has different packages installed and versions of R itself, thus identifying if an existing R build matches your needs is a first step to using R on Gizmo. If you do not see a build that meets your needs, then contact scicomp with the specific needs of your project.


Depending on what OS is on your local computer, the steps are:

  • If your local computer runs Windows, you should connect to the Rhino’s with NoMachine, then launch RStudio from within NoMachine.
  • If your local computer is a Mac, you should install XQuartz and connect to Rhino, then launch RStudio from the terminal
  • If your local computer runs Linux, you simply need to connect to Rhino with X11 forwarding using the -X flag as detailed above for Mac computers.


From Rhino, execute the grabnode command and a node will be allocated on Gizmo after you selected the CPUs and number of days you need the node.


Lastly, a Hutch supported RStudio server can be accessed at rstudio.fhcrc.org from computers connected to the Hutch network. For more information about using it, please contact scicomp.

The Tidyverse

The Tidyverse is a group of R packages that coordinate together and are commonly used for manipulating and visualizing data in data science applications. There are a number of useful packages for research based users that are part of the Tidyverse, and it’s worth the time to learn about them and see how one might employ them to clean, analyze and convey data and results. DataCamp has an online Introduction to the Tidyverse that can be useful when first evaluating whether these packages might be useful.


Shiny is an R package bundled with RStudio that enables the creation of interactive applications powered by R code. These apps can be viewed on any computer running RStudio, or they can be hosted on a server. Scicomp provides instructions for hosting Shiny apps here.

Local resources

Updated: November 12, 2019

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